The best books to discover the truth about women pirates

Laura Sook Duncombe Author Of Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas
By Laura Sook Duncombe

Who am I?

I have loved pirates since my first viewing of Mary Martin’s Peter Pan at age 5. My passion for learning about these outlaws led me to discover the hidden stories of women pirates—who have always sailed alongside their male counterparts yet never get the same glory. When I learned about Cheng I Sao, the greatest pirate who ever lived (who was a woman), I was so angry that her story wasn’t more well-known that I wrote a book about it! It has been a joy and an honor to share the stories of pirate women with the world and I have fully embraced my title of “crazy pirate lady.”


I wrote...

Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas

By Laura Sook Duncombe,

Book cover of Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas

What is my book about?

In the first-ever Seven Seas history of the world’s female buccaneers, Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas tells the story of women, both real and legendary, who through the ages sailed alongside—and sometimes in command of—their male counterparts. These women came from all walks of life but had one thing in common: a desire for freedom. History has largely ignored these female swashbucklers, until now. Here are their stories, from ancient Norse princess Alfhild and warrior Rusla to Sayyida al-Hurra of the Barbary corsairs; from Grace O’Malley, who terrorized shipping operations around the British Isles during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I; to Cheng I Sao, who commanded a fleet of four hundred ships off China in the early nineteenth century.

The books I picked & why

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She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea

By Joan Druett, Ron Druett (illustrator),

Book cover of She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea

Why this book?

This book is the perfect balance of deep research and swashbuckling adventure! Joan Druett’s own story is fascinating, and she lends her talents to illuminate the lives of pirate women. This is the first book I read by a woman about pirate women, and it felt like exhaling a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. When women tell our own stories, the impact is so incredibly powerful and I have this book to thank for teaching me that.


She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea

By Joan Druett, Ron Druett (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked She Captains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In an innovative look at maritime history from the female perspective, Joan Druett introduces a remarkable array of characters and re-creates their adventures with a captivating immediacy and wit. There are 'pirate queens' armed with cutlasses and pistols who strike fear into the hearts of sailors. There are sea-loving women and women eager to be with the men they loved, who dress as men and join unsuspecting crews where they serve with honour and daring. The brave housekeepers and rescue workers are here too - including twenty year old Grace Darling, whose rescue of nine castaways in 1838 inspired a…


Granuaile: Sea Queen of Ireland

By Anne Chambers, Deirdre O'Neill (illustrator),

Book cover of Granuaile: Sea Queen of Ireland

Why this book?

Grace O’Malley was my first pirate love and will forever hold a special place in my heart. This is the seminal biography of her by the woman who basically singlehandedly brought her whole story to the world. Anne Chambers is one of my women pirate researcher heroines and her depth of knowledge on Grace is unmatched. This book reads like a novel and is packed with amazing tales. I have read this one many times!

Granuaile: Sea Queen of Ireland

By Anne Chambers, Deirdre O'Neill (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Granuaile as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This children's book tells the story of a pirate queen who overcame the limitations of her gender and became a legend.


Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives

By David Cordingly,

Book cover of Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives

Why this book?

Cordingly is more famous for his other major pirate work—the ubiquitous “Under the Black Flag,” which is required reading for anyone who wants to learn more about pirates. However, I prefer this book about pirate women, as well as other types of women who went to sea. When I started my research for my first book, I knew virtually nothing about the women of the Royal Navy and this book opened my eyes to their fascinating stories. There’s something for everyone in this book.

Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives

By David Cordingly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seafaring Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For centuries, the sea has been regarded as a male domain, but in this illuminating historical narrative, maritime scholar David Cordingly shows that an astonishing number of women went to sea in the great age of sail. Some traveled as the wives or mistresses of captains; others were smuggled aboard by officers or seamen. And Cordingly has unearthed stories of a number of young women who dressed in men’s clothes and worked alongside sailors for months, sometimes years, without ever revealing their gender. His tremendous research shows that there was indeed a thriving female population—from pirates to the sirens of…


Sea Queens: Woman Pirates Around the World

By Jane Yolen (, Christine Joy Pratt (illustrator),

Book cover of Sea Queens: Woman Pirates Around the World

Why this book?

This is a picture book, but it’s absolutely lovely. Jane Yolen lends her considerable storytelling talent to this slim volume, which features both gorgeous illustrations of pirate women and bite-sized adaptations of their stories. This is a book I gift to most of the children in my life as a perfect introduction to the world of pirate women.

Sea Queens: Woman Pirates Around the World

By Jane Yolen (, Christine Joy Pratt (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sea Queens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1963 Jane Yolen released a book called PIRATES IN PETTICOATS, because the idea of women as pirates fascinated her--but there wasn't much information about these women who made their livelihoods plundering on the high seas. Scholars have dug up a bounty of new information since then, and Jane, still fascinated, revisits the ladies who loot.

Discover such great pirates as Artemisia, the Admiral Queen of Persia who sailed the seas from 500 to 480 BC. At one point there was a 10,000 drachma prize for anyone who could capture her. There was Rachel Wall, who ran away from her…


Pirate Queens

By Leigh Lewis, Sara Woolley (illustrator),

Book cover of Pirate Queens

Why this book?

This new book is a great example of how women pirates continue to captivate and inspire us. Leigh Lewis has created a truly unique hybrid of a poetry collection and historical text which is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s suitable for middle grade readers but enjoyable for all readers. I hope to see more from Leigh!

Pirate Queens

By Leigh Lewis, Sara Woolley (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pirate Queens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Move over Blackbeard and Captain Kidd! Did you know that the most powerful pirate who ever lived was a woman? Read all about her and more formidable females in this edgy, one-of-a-kind collection that combines poetry, fascinating facts, and pictures.

This wow-worthy book proves that women have been making their mark in all aspects of history even the high seas! Meet Ching Shih, a Chinese pirate who presided over a fleet of 80,000 men (by contrast, Blackbeard had some 300). Get the scoop on Anne Bonny who famously ran away from an arranged marriage to don trousers and brandish a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in piracy, Pirates, and Ireland?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about piracy, Pirates, and Ireland.

Piracy Explore 104 books about piracy
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Maiden Voyage, Pirates!, and The Pirate Queen if you like this list.